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How to stop being disappointed in yourself

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

What is Disappointment?

Experiencing disappointment can be crushing. Experts describe it as a type of sadness, but it can feel like a sudden loss of energy, an unexpected emptiness of everything. Like popping a balloon.

Sometimes it can make you feel sad and betrayed. Or even letdown and angry. It’s a whole host of emotions wrapped around a situation where the outcome wasn’t what you hoped, expected or needed it to be.

Feeling disappointed is an uncomfortable experience. It is borne from our unmet hopes, dreams and expectations - big and small. And each time it’s emotionally unique. The letdown of a restaurant running out of your favourite dessert differs greatly from the betrayal and bewilderment of discovering a partner’s affair. The futility and embarrassment of failing an important exam feel different from regretting and defeating from realising your life isn’t where you want it to be.

How you react to this bad news is involuntary. Your brain stitches together an emotional patchwork of disappointment. What you feel depends on the importance of whatever you’ve missed out on, how long you've been waiting for it, and whether it’s once in a lifetime or a regular daily event.

Why are people disappointed in themselves?

Disappointment can come from a range of different events and situations. They fall on a spectrum, where at one end are the things you have total control, and at the other are the things you had no control over.

Regardless of where these disappointments fall, some can feel that the blame always lands on their shoulders.

Everybody has a set of goals, dreams and expectations. Some we rush towards, and some we approach at a crawl. Others feel like we’re fighting against the tide to achieve what they want despite the time and effort we put in.

Many of our goals will never be reached. We could have set the bar too high, or feel like others set the bar too high for us. Or we might not even start, being too afraid of failure to set a single foot on the path towards what we want.

When our hopes and dreams come crashing down to reality, it can feel like the whole world is a disappointing place. Too many unsatisfied desires have a knack for making us feel like we failed and that nothing we’ve done was good enough.

It can be hard to look around and see everything friends, neighbours or coworkers have achieved if you feel like you haven’t reached the same level. Or that perhaps you aren’t as far along in life as you thought you would be. Sometimes you know you’ll get there but the pace of progress is slower than you can stand.

Disappointment is a hardwired response to something not going how we wanted it to.

But how we deal with this disappointment and how we let it shape our future actions are not hardwired. They are habitual responses to our unmet expectations.

Disappointment pushes you further.

We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment. -Jim Rohn

That feeling of disappointment can be a bitter pill to swallow, but that mix of emotions is something we can learn from. We use it as a reason to improve as it allows us to gain insight into what is most important to us, and it creates a competitive edge we never knew we had.

In a situation where the outcome is uncertain, we hope for, and work towards a positive outcome. To avoid disappointment, we study for exams; we exercise harder, we apply ourselves in work and put ourselves forward in social situations.

Avoiding disappointment can push us further in areas of our lives we care about and help us prioritise the goals we want to meet. It can reorder how we view ourselves and our position in the world. It makes us determined to get to where we want to be.

Why you need to move past it

By wallowing in disappointment, you are feeding your inner critic. That pessimistic, pervasive voice that repeats, amplifies and adds to all the negative things people have said to you over the years. It makes you doubt yourself and anything you've ever achieved. It replays every little mistake you made that day and what you should have done instead.

If left to their own devices, disappointments can lead to pessimism. Some people no longer expect things to go well and are trapped in a loop where they always assume a negative outcome to any situation.

By assuming the worst, they stop trying and slide into underachievement. They try to protect themselves from disappointment by not putting themselves in situations where they can fail. But by not setting goals or having high expectations stops them from growing or feeling the pride of a job well done. By not moving past setbacks, they become stuck.

Some people become overachievers, trying to outrun disappointment. They set the bar unattainably high and, despite their best efforts, only sometimes reach what they hope to achieve, leading to bitter disappointment.

So how do we make disappointment into something useful?

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Disappointment is a measurement of emotion, not achievement. It’s a tool we can use to reassess what’s important to us and what we need to work on So what do we need to do?

Own up to the mistake. Admitting wrongdoing in any situation takes courage and self-awareness. Some problems are obvious and predictable—others you couldn’t have seen coming or were out of your control. If there’s a portion of the blame that belongs to you, take it. But don’t accept the blame for anything outside your control.

Allow yourself to feel emotions. What is your mindset when you fail? It’s ok if you’re angry or sad. It’s ok if what has happened makes you want to cry. Let yourself feel those emotions and work out where they are coming from. Are you angry because of all the wasted effort? Sad because of the missed opportunity? Part of accepting something hasn’t lived up to your expectation is accepting the emotional response that comes with it and understanding where that emotional response is coming from

Put it in perspective. This is crucial. You need to understand that right now, you’re looking through a microscope, if you zoom out, how does that change your perspective? To put it another way, try to think beyond this moment, will it even matter in a year? Give yourself time to stop and assess the damage and what you can salvage. This was a learning experience, so what insight have you gained from it?

Forgive yourself. No one is perfect and, despite what your inner critic might be telling you, other people DO make mistakes. Separating fact from emotion is important; if a friend was in the same position as you, would you be as hard on them as you’re being on yourself? Having compassion for yourself is important; you need to be mindful that self-worth isn’t the same as success.

Manage your expectations.

Whose standards are you trying to meet? We are often pressured into believing that what other people want is what we should want too. Social media showcases everyone living ‘their best life’ through carefully curated pictures and posts but leaves out the chaos and mess behind the camera. Friends and family will tell you what they would do in your situation and what you should care about. Often this comes from a place of love, but even so they are telling you what they care about, not what you care about. It’s important that you decide how you want to live, to set your own goals and the pace you achieve them.

Are your expectations realistic? Big goals push us forward. Working towards a dream job and a nice house, or planning a huge, once-in-a-lifetime holiday are life milestones. But how would you feel if you didn’t own a house by 25? Or your career path isn’t as straightforward as you’d hoped? Whatever you want out of life there needs to be some wiggle room. You need to track and adjust your plans as needed. If you’re driving and you come across a roadblock do you stop? Or do you find a way around it and accept that the journey will be longer?

Do you expect too much from yourself? As a bit of exercise, try and list all the areas in your life you have expectations. Finances, friendships, career, partners, family, health, personal interests, hobbies… and that’s just to start. Nobody can expect to achieve 100% of what they want all the time. Modern life gives us so much to juggle that we’ll drop a ball or two every now and again. Sometimes disappointment will happen and we have to use it to reassess our goals and expectations. Sometimes that means that you need less to manage. So if a ball drops on the floor leave it there. Or sometimes it might mean asking for help and getting someone to pick it up for you.

Applying it in real life

That gnawing feeling of dissatisfaction can drive us forward and demand that we do better. Disappointment comes from unmet expectations, so we have to keep those expectations realistic.

By putting everything into perspective, you won’t feel like you're not good enough or that nothing you do works out. Disappointment is a barometer of emotion, not achievement, and you need to keep that in mind the next time things don’t go your way.

Hello! I am Rose - a qualified counsellor offering online counselling to individuals and couples. If you want to learn more about me and my work, have a look at my website. I would love to hear from you!

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